The Missouri House will begin an investigation into allegations that Gov. Eric Greitens threatened a woman with blackmail to cover up a 2015 affair.
The investigation comes on the heels of a St. Louis grand jury indictment Thursday of Greitens for felony invasion of privacy. House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, and other House GOP leaders said in a statement that lawmakers will investigate the allegations that led to the indictment.
“We will carefully examine the facts contained in the indictment and answer the question as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward,” Richardson said. “The people of Missouri deserve no less. We will begin the process of tasking a group of legislators to investigate these serious charges.”
Impeachment proceeding begin in the Missouri House, and an investigation by legislators is an ominous sign for a governor who has vehemently denied accusations that he threatened to release a nude photograph of a woman, taken while she was blindfolded and her hands were bound, if she ever spoke publicly about their 2015 affair.
His attorney released a statement saying Greitens is “absolutely innocent” and adding: “We will be filing a motion to dismiss.”
A few hours later, the governor posted on Facebook that the indictment “will not for a moment deter me from doing the important work of the great people of Missouri.”
But calls for him to resign or be impeached grew as the day went on.
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, quickly called on Greitens to resign after news of the indictment broke Thursday afternoon.
“Gov. Greitens has to go,” Nasheed said. “Missourians thought they voted for a person of character and integrity, and instead they got a liar and alleged criminal.”
Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican, said that the Missouri House “should move quickly to resolve the issue. They should investigate and let the process work. … They should act quickly.”
Rep. Nate Walker, a Kirksville Republican, called news of the indictment “tragic for the state of Missouri.”
“I think it’s tragic for Gov. Greitens and his family,” Walker said. “I find no joy in it, but sometimes people have to be held accountable for their actions.”
Walker, an early Greitens supporter, called for him to resign in the days after the allegations surfaced. He renewed those calls Thursday when asked whether the House should pursue impeachment.
“I called for him to step down three weeks ago because I thought this was going to happen. … My understanding was he was led off in handcuffs and that’s not a good sign for our executive of the state of Missouri,” Walker said. “He should resign.”
Rep. Kevin Corlew, a Kansas City Republican, joined the growing chorus of GOP lawmakers who want the governor to step down Thursday evening.
“In the wake of the grand jury criminal indictment, and with legal proceedings to come, I cannot see how he could effectively perform the duties of his office, let alone to lead with the kind of moral authority needed to make a positive impact,” Corlew said in a Facebook post. “For the good of our state and the ideals we stand for, I believe that Governor Geitens should resign.”
Sen. Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican, said on Twitter that he was “disgusted to learn” that the grand jury found sufficient evidence to indict the governor and called on resign immediately for “sake of our state.”
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, a Kansas City Democrat, said it would be “extremely difficult for the governor to effectively do his job with a felony indictment hanging over his head.”
“While the criminal justice system must run its course, the governor needs to consider whether remaining in office under these circumstances is the right thing to do for not only himself and his family but for the people of Missouri,” she said.
Rep. Gina Mitten, a St. Louis Democrat, echoed McCann Beatty’s concerns over whether Greitens can continue to do his job while under indictment.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, she said, will likely spend the weekend contemplating whether an legislative inquiry, or outright impeachment, is called for.
“The whole situation is very sad,” she said. “It’s sad for Missourians. It’s sad for the family. It’s sad for the victim. It’s just sad. There’s nothing joyous in any of this.”
Rep. Mark Ellebracht, a Liberty Democrat, said Greitens “cannot continue to lead under these circumstances. He must resign immediately.”
Rep. Lauren Arthur, a Kansas City Democrat, said the governor must resign.
“His pledge to clean up Jefferson City,” she said, “starts with himself.”
It’s doubtful that Greitens will be able to effectively govern in the face of the indictment, said Robynn Kuhlmann, a political scientist at the University of Central Missouri. She said lawmakers will continue to distance themselves from the governor.
“As for impeachment, these formal allegations certainly put him at risk for getting closer to beginning these proceedings,” Kuhlmann said in an email. “However, this is contingent on whether or not Republicans in the house are willing to do so based on an indictment absent of a guilty verdict.”
Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, a St. Louis County Democrat, steered clear of the calls for impeachment, instead offering her thoughts to “the women and families whose lives are forever changed because of Eric Greitens’ behavior and actions.”
“Too often, women in our state and nation are subject to intimidation, threats and even violence at the hands of those in power,” she said. “No more. It’s time our state takes a stand and ensures that women everywhere are able to seek the justice and equality they rightfully deserve.”